JULY 12
Sentinels
Holiday: Different Colored Eyes Day

He shouldn't be here. No one should, but especially him. He wasn't meant to kill people. He wasn't strong enough for that. His stomach was rolling and he felt cold; his finger, nervously rubbing the trigger, trembled right along with the rest of his body. He licked his dry lips and looked around, searching for the other men, the men that had been here so much longer, knew so much more...hidden in the underbrush, in the shallow, stagnant water of the marsh...

And then the firing started. He wasn't ready for it. He should've been. Should've been watching for the gooks, not reassurance. He fired into the marsh, across the water, not really seeing anything, just flashes of light, smoke. Water splattered, getting in his eyes, his mouth and still he kept firing...

When it happened, he couldn't really say. Strange, that. He thought you would know when you got shot. How could you not know that? But he didn't. One moment he was pressing down on the trigger, the next - looking up, seeing those eyes staring down at him. That was another odd thing. That's all he remembered seeing - those bloodshot blue eyes, tired but excited, looking at him, eye to eye, then down at his leg, the leg that he suddenly felt burning. And then looking back into his own eyes. A wink.

And then he was being moved. That hurt. Really hurt. He tried to be quiet. Soldiers were supposed to take pain with courage, right? But it hurt so bad...

They stopped. He could feel the ground beneath him, the dampness seeping through the canvas stretcher. Cold. He felt so cold. Was that rain? He shivered. Kept shivering. Damn, he was so cold. So damn cold.

Then a blanket was over him. He looked up, saw the frown, the deep brown, almost black eyes. Dark with anger. At him? No. Anger at them, the gooks, the bastards that shot him. He closed his eyes as a sharp pain ran up his leg, gasped without meaning to. Felt a hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes, and the angry brown eyes were softer now, and a low voice said something, something that made him feel calmer, safer. Warm. Funny, he couldn't remember the words.

He heard the chopper coming. Hoped it was one of theirs. Had to be. Had to be. He was lifted off the ground, moving again, moving toward the sound of the chopper. Hurt like hell but he didn't care. He didn't care about anything but getting to that chopper. Getting out. Out.

The noise was deafening. Never liked that noise. Before. Now it was like angels singing. Saw the dark ceiling above him, the hard floor beneath him. The rumbling, rolling as they rose into the air. Felt someone working on his leg, packing it, pressing on it. Hadn't thought about that before. The bleeding. Hell, the wound itself. How bad was it? Bad enough to go home? He hoped so. God, he hoped so.

He felt the bump as they landed. How could that be? They'd only gotten into the air. The guys around him were moving, getting off. Nobody came for him. He couldn't hear anyone. He looked around - they'd left him? Alone? Why? Was he dead? How could...no. No, someone was there now. He heard the soft whistling. He was being strapped in, tighter than before. But not too tight. He looked at his eyes. Looked familiar. Brown eyes again. Different, yet the same. These had more sparkle. Tell me. Tell me I'm not dead. And then he saw the grin below those wonderful eyes.

Thank God. Thank God.


*****

He felt so groggy, so tired. He just wanted to sleep. Sleep for a long time. But he heard the voice. Saying his name. Over and over. He slowly opened his eyes.

Yeah. That's who he thought it was. He knew the voice. He knew that face. Those cold, hard blue eyes. That's what he'd seen when he first arrived. What he'd been more afraid of than the gooks out there waiting to kill him. It had taken a while before he saw that coldness fade, saw the glint that came with every new mission, the glitter when they headed back out of the boonies, the job done and done well. He'd been proud when they looked at him, really looked at him.

But they were cold and hard now, and he focused on that more than the words. He didn't want to think about the words. Telling him his leg was gone. Because he knew that wasn't right. His leg still hurt; it couldn't be gone. So he focused on the eyes, and only the eyes, until he heard the words he'd been waiting for.

"You're going home, son."

That's all he'd ever wanted.

FINI